<strong>LOGAN, Utah –</strong> Twelve years ago if you asked Gary Wilkinson where he would be as an adult, his answer would most likely have not been correct. He dropped out of high school and got caught up in the wrong crowd. Luckily, he got his life turned around and found himself playing for Utah State University and head men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill.
After a beyond-successful career on the Utah State basketball team, he has gone on to play on four international professional teams, claiming two consecutive national championship titles.
Wilkinson, who was an All-American and the Player of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference as a senior in 2009, just finished his second year as a part of the New Zealand Breakers, part of the Australian National Basketball League. Two years ago, no New Zealand team had ever won an Australian title, and now, with Wilkinson’s help, they have two.
Wilkinson’s contract ended with him climbing the stats charts for the league. He finished the season third in the league in scoring (16.6 ppg), second in field goal shooting (.570), third in free throw percentage (.828) and third in three-point percentage (.409). In his first year as a Breaker, he was named to the all-NBL first-team, and earned second-team honors this season.
Back in Cache Valley for the summer, waiting to see where he will play come fall, Wilkinson took a few minutes to catch us up on his life and career.
How did it feel to help the New Zealand Breakers winback-to-back Australian National Basketball League titles?
“It’s always difficult to win that second one. The first one is tough, yeah, but the second one even more so just because you have such a big target on your back. It was rewarding watching the team throughout the season, everyone giving it their best shot and rising above everything. It was phenomenal. The group of guys that I was playing with was great, and we gotalong really well. We had a great group and that really added to the experience.”
What are some of the adjustments you’ve had to make in playing in such diverse areas of the world?
“Going place to place is a lot of fun, but a lot of hard work trying to adjust to the way other people do things, especially when you have family involved. Greece’s culture was amazing – the food, the people – it was just a lot of fun. South Korea was completely different. We didn’t understand a thing that was going on, the food was a lot to get used to, but it was a great learning experience. New Zealand had a lot that the United States has, but it’s a more laid-back culture. They take things a little bit more easy, and we enjoyed that. Every place had something different to offer.”
<strong>How does the culture of basketball in these places compare to the United States?</strong>
“In Greece, basketball is huge. In South Korea, it’s televised nationally. In New Zealand, it’s televised as well, and after the first year there, it really grew. Rugby and cricket were huge in New Zealand, but by the end of last season, basketball was really taking over. People would skip rugby games, which was unheard of, to go to basketball games. You’d see guys from the All Blacks (New Zealand National Rugby Team) squad sitting on the sidelines at basketball games. It was great to see it grow. Puerto Rican basketball is huge as well. Basketball is becoming the world sport; it’s right up there near soccer in its interest level and worldwide popularity.”
Another huge adjustment you’ve had to make is having a 1-year-old son. How has that impacted things?
“Having Jordan with us has added a lot of different worries. You’ve got to make sure you’re near a doctor and that you have people you trust. When you’re traveling, there’s a little more added anxiety with leaving him back at home. It adds pressure knowing I have to provide for this little guy, but it’s been great. He’s quite the beach bum, so he loved living in New Zealand.”
Your former Aggie teammate, Tyler Newbold, and his wife Jennie were in New Zealand for a little over a month, how was that?
“It was great to be able to see them and have them experience a little bit of what we were experiencing. It’s so hard to explain to people what it’s like, so it was fun to help them be a part of it. We got to be a part of it with them and help them see what it was all about. It was good to have a fellow Aggie down their with me.”
<strong>What are your plans while you’re back in Logan for the summer?</strong>
“Relaxing, that’s it. I just want to hang out with my family and golf and enjoy my time off. It’s not going to last very long.”
<strong>What’s up next for you and your family?</strong>
“Right now we’re looking to maybe head back to Australia to a team in Sydney, or other avenues in Europe. It’s still pretty early so we’re just hanging back and let it all sort itself out.”
<strong>What are some lessons you learned during your time at Utah State that have continued to be relevant in your professional career?</strong>
“As far as the coaching and the quality of the basketball I knew at Utah State has been huge in terms of being a professional basketball player. Obviously, I miss the fans. There are no fans anywhere I’ve played that have come close to being like Aggie fans. The basketball knowledge and what I learned as an athlete at Utah State have been so helpful. Coach Morrill is very demanding and that’s what makes the program so special. It’s been easier to adjust to what other coaches expect because I was use to such a high level. I am so appreciative of the way the USU coaches prepared me to be a professional athlete.”
<strong>- USU -</strong>